Sicily (Day 4 & 5) – Vendicari Nature Reserve

On our final full day in Sicily, we decided to explore the lagoons of the Vendicari Nature Reserve. ¬† As well as resident and migrating birds, the reserve is where you’ll also find the remains of an old ‘tonnara’ or tuna processing plant.

Our flight home wasn’t until late afternoon the following day so, on the way to the airport, we called in at the Maddelana peninsular – to check out the lighthouses (of course ūüôā ). ¬† From there you also get a great view of the ancient city of Syracuse across Porto Grande bay.

Sicily (Part 3) – Calamosche beach

Before travelling to Sicily we’d read that Calamosche beach was one of the best in Sicily, if not one of the best in Italy.¬† So we had to visit but, sadly, we were disappointed.¬† Firstly, there a very bumpy track to get to the parking area and, we didn’t mind but, some may not fancy the 1.2k walk to get to the beach, but the beach itself was covered in (presumably) washed up rubbish and piles of dried seaweed leaves.¬† There was only one small area where we could enter the sea without walking or swimming amongst the leaves.¬† (Yes, Judith and I are crazy enough to go swimming in the Med. in March!)

A by far better beach is Marianelli, which can be reached by a slightly better track and a much prettier walk, from an entrance off the main road maybe half a mile or 800m further north, towards Noto.¬† It’s a much longer beach and the sand gently shelves away into the crystal clear water.

Be warned though that you might be sharing the beach with some naturists.

Sicily (Part 2) – Noto Antica

Situated about 10 km inland from the current town of Noto is the old town, originally called Netum or Neetum, but now known as Noto Antica.  In 1693 the town was completely destroyed by an earthquake and an eyewitness is quoted as saying (in Italian obviously):

“Then came an earthquake so horrible and ghastly that the soil undulated like the waves of a stormy sea, and mountains danced as if drunk, and the city collapsed in one miserable moment killing more than a thousand people.”

Apart from a little cosmetic reconstruction to the main entrance and tower (to make it safe and to encourage visitors) and a ‘new’ monument in the centre, the site has been left to decay naturally.¬† So much so that there is virtually nothing left to see.¬† Indeed I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed by the ruins (or lack of them) given the apparent size of the original town.¬† However I was very impressed to see the number of wild flowers and butterflies that have taken full advantage of the very peaceful and undisturbed terrain.

We returned via the Cavagrande del Cassibile nature reserve, which boasts the most impressive canyon that I’ve ever seen (having never been to the U.S. Grand Canyon).¬† In previous years, visitors could walk to the bottom and bathe in the natural pools, but a recent fire (in 2014) and subsequent landslide means this option is currently closed.

Sicily (Part 1)

There’s only so much snow that a person can take and, after 3 months of looking at the white stuff, my wife, Judith, was in need of a break.¬† In previous years, we’ve driven over the Simplon Pass to the Italian Lakes, but the forecast for that area wasn’t great, so the decision was made to fly further south, to Sicily.

If nothing else, the internet is a fantastic resource for finding accommodation and we booked ourselves into the delightfully peaceful Terra dei Limone agriturismo, near Noto, in the south east corner of Sicily.

As regular readers will know, Judith has a passion for the sea and lighthouses, so it was no surprise that on Day 1 we drove down the coast road to Cappo delle Correnti, which is at the very southern tip of the island and where the Mediterranean sea literally crashes into the Ionian sea. (See pic 21).  On the way we stopped off at the beautiful fishing village of Marzamemi, which was all but deserted when we were there that day.   But it was clearly a favourite destination for the Sicilians too as, when we returned on the Sunday afternoon, it was packed with people parading in their finest designer clothes, as only Italians can do.

After all the snow and icy weather we’ve had, it was great to have the sun on our backs and see green fields and wild flowers everywhere.¬† Sicily is noted for its agriculture and wine making and we saw ample evidence of that in the fields as well as in the restaurants of Noto during the evenings.¬† ūüôā


La Forclaz to Le Salay in the snow

I confess that I’ve been extremely lazy recently and I’ve not been out walking very much at all.¬† In my defence there has been a lot of snow, which has led to a lot of avalanche warnings. ¬†There are not many routes to choose from at this time of year either, but one that I thought would be well trodden was the track up to Le Salay from La Forclaz.

Looking at the route today, (see below), you would not believe that the Postbus goes up there in the summer.¬† But, then, you can see why it stops in La Forclaz in the winter, especially when you see the state of the tunnel… (In case you are wondering, I ‘crawled’ across the ice on gloved hands and feet!)

Birds in Winter

Northern Europe is experiencing some of its coldest weather for years and I hear on the BBC radio that people in the UK are ‘suffering’ from temperatures of maybe minus 5 degrees C (23 F).¬† Perhaps they and we should spare a thought for our feathered, and indeed furry, friends here in the Val d’H√©rens.¬† We have had negative temperatures in excess of minus 20 degrees C (-4 F) overnight and not much higher than -10 C (14 F) during the day recently.¬† How these creatures survive is a minor miracle.

I have no pictures of the hares, foxes or deer that visit us overnight, (though we have seen or heard them) but below is a selection of the wide variety of birds that have regularly visited our feeders over the past couple of months.


Cross country skiing, Evol√®ne to Les Haud√®res

Our good friends Arthur and Michelle have been staying with us since last Friday.¬† Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great over the weekend.¬† We did go out for a walk on Sunday, but my pictures were so grey, I didn’t think they were worth publishing.¬† However, yesterday the sun came out with avengeance, so we decided to go cross country skiing up to Les Haud√®res and back.

If you’ve never tried it, you should.¬† ‘Traditional’ is relatively easy to do being, at its simplest, just a walk on skis.¬† It can be a bit more complicated than that obviously and a good balance is required for any slightly downhill stretches, where you slide along in the grooves. ¬† The ‘Skating’ technique is very much more demanding, though those Olympians make it look far too easy!


York (England) – City Walls

When I lived in York, my lunchtime running pals and I used to regularly run around the old Roman Walls, now in 3 separate sections, which circumnavigate the City centre.¬† We would leap off some of the steps which were 4 or 5 high and unsuspecting visitors would pin themselves to the walls as we came careering through.¬† (I should add that no women or children were hurt in this process and that dogs are not allowed on the Walls.¬† We’d also generally do it in winter when there were very few visitors).¬† Pete managed to get us and the route featured in the UK “Running” magazine as “Our Favourite Run”.

So, when I was back in the UK last week, Pete, Colin and I re-lived old times by walking along the route – all the way from and to the start and finish outside the Rowntree’s (now Nestl√©) chocolate factory and offices where we worked. ¬† The first picture below was taken 21 years ago (almost to the day), with our mate Tim.¬† I should also point out that the “Bars” in some of these pictures are “Gateways” into the City, unlike the one in the Maltings, which is one of the best pubs in York and where we stopped for lunch. ūüôā¬† Cheers! ūüćĽ

La Borgne riverside walk

While I was away, the snow continued to fall in the Valais region of Switzerland.¬† And, for the past few weeks, the temperature has been well below zero (32 F), even during the day.¬† So we are still firmly in the grip of winter here in the Val d’H√©rens.¬† All things considered, this is a good thing, especially for the ski resorts.

Although yesterday was meant to be a little cloudy, I decided to take a walk along the riverside from Evolène to Les Haudères, partly to test out my new camera in the white, wintery conditions.

To remind you, it’s a Sony Cybershot, DSC-WX500 and,¬†I have to say, that I’m quite pleased with the quality of the images (though you may not be able to tell, as I always shrink them to around 200kb before posting).¬† However, I’ve lost the ability to take one point colour photos and, surprisingly, black and white (or at least, I haven’t found that setting yet).¬† On the plus side, the camera does not switch iself on accidentally when I put it away in the cover, and the panoramic photos work 100% of the time. (My old Lumix didn’t like it when the lighting was different from one side of the image to the other and, frustratingly, just gave the message “Move the camera more quickly”!) ¬† I also like the fact that I can switch the aspect ratio quite quickly from 4:3 to 16:9 (or 3:2 or 1:1), which I think helps to frame some shots much better.

Melbourne, Australia (last of many)

It’s obviously not for nothing that Melbourne has been voted ‘the most liveable city‘ 7 years running. ¬† So it would be remiss of me not to finish this series of posts with a few more pictures, all taken in and around the city centre.¬† Even for a non-city person I was pleasantly surprised, (but I still wouldn’t live there myself!)